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Delayed Gamma-Ray Assay for Nuclear Safeguards


This dissertation addresses the need for new non-destructive assay instruments capable of quantifying the fissile isotopic composition of spent nuclear fuel and of independently verifying the declared amounts of special nuclear materials at various stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. High-energy delayed gamma-ray spectroscopy can provide the ability to directly assay fissile and fertile isotopes in the highly radioactive environment of the spent fuel assemblies and to achieve the safeguards goal of measuring nuclear material inventories for spent fuel handling, interim storage, reprocessing facilities, and final disposal and repository sites.

The delayed gamma-ray assay concept is investigated within this context with the objective of assessing whether the delayed gamma-ray assay instrument can provide sufficient sensitivity, isotope specificity and accuracy as required in nuclear material safeguards applications. Preliminary system design analysis indicates that the delayed gamma-ray response is affected by multiple parameters: type and intensity of the interrogating source, the configuration of the interrogation setup, the time pattern of the interrogation, and the resolution and count rate limit of the gamma-ray detection system.

In order to handle the variety of factors associated with the delayed gamma-ray assay of spent nuclear fuel, a high-fidelity response modeling technique is introduced. The new algorithm seamlessly combines transport calculations with analytical decay/depletion, and discrete gamma-ray source reconstruction codes. Its performance was benchmarked in the dedicated experimental campaign involving accelerator-driven photo-neutron sources and samples containing fissile and fertile isotopes.

Analytical estimations of the intensity of the delayed gamma-ray response and the passive background rate are utilized to develop a concept of the non-destructive instrument for the assay of spent nuclear fuel. The modeling technique is then applied to more detailed parametric study. These simulations included extensive spent fuel inventories, and accounted for realistic assay configurations and instrumentation. The results of this preliminary analysis indicate that the delayed gamma-ray assay of spent nuclear fuel assemblies can be performed with available neutron generator and detection technology.

The sensitivity of the delayed gamma-ray spectra to the actinide content of the spent nuclear fuel is investigated. The simplest analysis of the delayed gamma-ray response is based on the analysis of integrated count rates and peak ratios. More powerful analytical and numerical methods are likely needed for determining the relative concentrations of fissile and fertile isotopes in samples with complex compositions.

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